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“Top Chef” puts cheftestants in the shoes of … babies and hotel guests?

SmartBrief’s Amanda Yeager tuned in to this week’s episode of “Top Chef D.C.”

Cheftestants entering the “Top Chef” kitchen this week were puzzled to find only hosts Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi there to greet them. In the place of a guest judge: building blocks and baby toys. Their challenge? To prepare a meal that would appeal to adult palates and translate well into a baby-food puree.

The results went far out of the realm of Gerber Baby fare, much to the delight, I’m sure, of foodie parents everywhere. The winning dishes-slash-purees were a salmon-topped vegetable chowder with lobster stock, Thai basil and licorice oil by Tamesha Warren, sous chef at D.C.’s Oval Room, and curried chicken with mango salad, butternut squash confit and Maitake mushrooms whipped up by Kenny Gilbert, executive chef at PGA Resort & Hotel.

The elimination challenge required a different type of innovation — cheftestants were asked to invent breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes that could be added to the menu at Hilton Hotels nationwide. Each round, the two best groups gained immunity, leaving the others to battle it out for a chance to stay on the show.

Some takeaways from the episode:

  • Know your audience. Whether you’re cooking for infants or hotel guests, it’s essential to consider what appeals to the sensibilities of the particular group you’re cooking for. Tamesha, who grew up cooking for her younger brother, seemed to understand the differences between preparing food for the younger and older sets: “You want to give an adult something flavorful, but for a baby — something a little more plain.” In the elimination challenge, Arnold and Lynne lost points for a squid ink pasta dish that, while inventive, didn’t seem to the judges like it would be a popular choice for vacationers staying at the Hilton.
  • Communication is key. This might be one of the oldest tips in the teamwork manual, but trust me — some of the groups would have done well to pay a little more attention to this advice. Kenny and Kevin had problems with their horseradish sauce that almost cost them the competition because they weren’t working together, while Arnold proclaimed himself blindsided by Lynne’s confession to the judges that she thought their pasta was undercooked.

What dish do you think would freshen up a Hilton Hotel menu while remaining accessible to a broad audience? Leave a comment.

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